Highlights of the Himalayas
There are impressive mountain ranges, and then there are the Himalayas, the stretch of peaks which dwarf all others, and leave those who survey them still and almost shivery with awe. An estimated 450 million years old and growing higher each year as the Indian Plate continues thrusting up into the Eurasian Plate, the Himalayas stretch from Nanga Parbat in the west, to the Yarlung Tsampo River in the east. They straddle five countries – Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bhutan, and China (Tibet), and nine of the world’s 10 highest peaks are found here.It is the Indian Himalayas which are most intriguing, and accessible, for non-mountaineers, however, and whatever your interest or level of fitness, there are numerous attractions and opportunities to enthral you. Whether you dream of trekking a few days in the foothills, rising early to photograph misty peaks in the morning light, spotting rare wildlife, or wandering through the courtyards of Buddhist monasteries to the sound of the monks chanting and clanging their gongs, at Exclusive Adventures we will tailor make an unforgettable programme for you. For those who want to experience the bygone age of colonial India, Shimla is the ideal destination. Shimla was the British summer capital, where bureaucrats retreated from the heat of the plains. A quaint town, surrounded by picturesque peaks and forests where you can picnic and take long walks, it was here that Rudyard Kipling would take his vacations, and where he set much of his most important novel, Kim. You can ride here on the UNESCO-listed Kalka-Shimla Railway, affectionally known as the toy train, and the charming town centre is dotted with historic buildings, including Christ Church, the Viceregal Lodge (now the Indian Institute of Advanced Study), the Gaiety Theatre, and the Mall with its shops, restaurants, and post office. The best place to stay here is the fairytale resort of Wildflower Hall, once the residence Lord Kitchener. The hotel has teak floors, wood-panelled rooms, and marble bathrooms, and views from the window are across the manicured lawns onto cedar forests, with the mountain tops peaking out beyond. After a visit to the Shimla hill station, you might well want to explore the great outdoors, on foot, on horseback, or by mountain bike. If you like your trip with a spice of adrenalin, you can raft the rapids of the Sutlej River, too. Moving east through Uttarkhand brings you to Shakti 360° at Leti, one of the best-kept secrets in the Himalayas. This remote forest hideaway has just four hilltop cottages, each of which has two glass walls to make the most of the views. The canopy of stars, entirely unpolluted by light, twinkle throughout the night, and when you are awoken in the morning with breakfast in bed, they’re replaced with a mountain panorama dusted with snow. Shakti 360° is the option to choose if you want to escape from the hubbub of everyday life (and the chaos of India): it takes a full day of travel to get here, including the last hour on foot with a porter to carry your bags. You can use the resort as the starting point for a longer, three-day trek with home stay accommodation in traditional mountain villages, or just relax at Shakti 360°, walking by the streams, taking pictures, and enjoying gourmet meals cooked freshly by the chef. And then, of course, there is Little Tibet, the mountainous plateau of Ladakh. In the summer months you can travel by road or air to the high-altitude town of Leh, and this is the best place to immerse yourself in a Buddhist culture which dates back nearly 2,000 years. Old and new stupas containing holy relics; impressive, fortified monasteries where monks still live and pray; and fluttering, colourful prayer flags strewn across the highest and most holy places: the physical manifestations of Buddhism are inescapable, and so too is the peaceful, hospitable nature of the local people. The Grand Dragon Ladakh has an enviable location and is built in a traditional style, and it is within easy reach of Leh’s most important attractions, including Leh Palace, modelled on the Potala Palace in Lhasa.